The extent and significance of telomere loss with age

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Jun;1019:265-8. doi: 10.1196/annals.1297.044.


By imposing a limit on the proliferative life span of some human cell types, telomere loss and the subsequent onset of replicative senescence have been proposed to contribute to age-related disease. Although there is a large body of in vitro data to reveal the mechanisms by which telomere erosion triggers senescence, technical limitations have hampered our ability to understand the full extent of telomere erosion in vivo. Thus far, we have evidence of age-related telomere loss; however, the lack of resolution of existing technologies does not allow us to determine if telomere erosion is extensive enough to trigger replicative senescence in vivo. This coupled with the considerable interindividual heterogeneity, and the overlap in telomere lengths between young and elder individuals, render any correlation weak and the significance unclear. However, recent technical developments, including adaptations of quantitative telomere fluorescence, in situ hybridization (Q-FISH), and the PCR-based single telomere length analysis (STELA), have increased the resolution of telomere length analysis. These technologies promise to provide the evidence required to address the full extent and significance of telomere loss in the human aging process. Here, we review published data on the dynamics of telomere erosion with age in the human body.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Telomere / pathology*
  • Telomere / ultrastructure